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What Is School Leadership?


The most recent issue of Educational Leadership is on “School Leadership.”

They asked a number of educators to answer the question: “What personal insight have you had about school leadership?”

I was one of those asked to respond. Here is what I said, and what the magazine printed:

“I’ve been teaching for five years following a 19-year career in community organizing, and I’ve found that effective leadership in schools works the same as elsewhere — it’s about having a vision and then, through listening and developing relationships, agitating others to modify that vision so that they make it their own.

It’s not about being a charismatic guru who sweeps everybody off their feet. That kind of cult of personality (no matter how well intentioned) is a house of cards that will collapse at the first sign of trouble or when that Dear Leader leaves.

And it’s not about knowing exactly what should be done and then being self-righteously indignant and whiny when other don’t follow your lead.

If you think your vision is valid, listen to the hopes and dreams of the people around you. Ask them what they think it’ll take to make their dreams happen. Incorporate those ideas into your vision, and help people see how they can realize their goals through working with you.”

How would you answer that same question:

“What personal insight have you had about school leadership?”

Please share your responses in the the comments section.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. I agree with the idea that for leadership to be effective, it must be a distributed form of leadership. According to McREL, “Distributed leadership implies shared responsibility and mutual accountability toward a common goal or goals for the good of an organization… Leadership is accomplishing together what individuals cannot accomplish alone.”

    My experience has shown that a leader is not only responsible for establishing the vision but creating a buy-in among stakeholders to build a collective efficacy–where a common goal is achieved through combined efforts. Maxwell’s Law of Connection is essential in this mission, because leaders must connect with those who follow them to build solid relationships, formed from mutual trust and respect, in order to succeed collectively.

    Educational leadership also requires knowledge of, and involvement in, curriculum, instruction and assessment. In McREL’s Balanced Leadership Framework, research has identified 21 factors which play a crucial role in determining the success of managing first and second order changes in educational reform. Some of these are: promoting a positive culture among staff, providing order through rules and procedures, ensuring teachers have the necessary resources, providing focus, discipline, visibility, communication, outreach, contingent rewards, soliciting input, inspiring teachers as well as having the ideals and beliefs to implement positive change (to name a few).

    Effective leadership is transformational, serves others, requires situational awareness, and often calls for sacrifice toward the greater good. Good leaders also rely upon intuition,
    timing, and empowering others as necessary ingredients for success.

  2. I’ve learned a great deal about the importance of vision and leadership over the last twenty years, and Larry, I have to say this–the way you frame this is fantastic. It’s not enough to simply have vision as a leader–it’s important that the vision of those you are leading aligns to yours. Some leaders attempt to accomplish this by demanding it. Others try to inspire it through charisma. Great ones are truly compelled by the vision of those they work with. Rather than seeking to impose their vision upon the group, they allow the group to shape a collective vision. I’m eager to hear your thoughts about process, too. Should great leaders nurture the use of common processes for achieving this vision? If so…how could that happen in a way that is equally meaningful?

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